Kaesong (Gyeongeui) and Kumgang (Donghae) railway tests

From Joon Ang daily:

South and North Korea have agreed in principle to conduct test runs on the Gyeongeui and Donghae railway lines across the Demilitarized Zone and will settle the essential military security procedures at general officer talks tomorrow.  If the two sides agree and the test runs do take place, their meaning and effects will be significant.

According to research by experts, the railways would enable North Korea to earn $300 million-$400 million annually from freight and service charges. Also, if Pyongyang could modernize its railroad facilities with outside help, it could be an opportunity for North Korea’s industry to record rapid growth.

For South Korea, the opening of the railroads could reduce logistics costs with the North by one-third, and it would help Seoul to emerge as a hub of northeast Asian logistics. The event also holds great symbolic meaning as it allows Korea to become a point of contact with continental Asia. The agreement is the first step to a project that could benefit both Koreas.

The question is North Korea’s attitude in the future. During the past two years, Pyongyang has agreed on the inter-Korea railway test runs only to go against its word later. This time the North agreed on a test run again and even fixed a date. Some analysts have suggested that the past promises were broken because North Korea demanded massive raw material aid from the South in exchange for agreeing to the tests.
But we do not want to pay unnecessary attention to matters of the past. Pyongyang, however, must bear in mind that unreasonable requests, like asking for Seoul’s concession on the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea, will not be tolerated. It must also refrain from considering the test runs as a one-time event to get some additional aid.
The agreement was made during a period of increasing tension between South Korea and the United States regarding the application of pressure on North Korea.

Considering Washington’s financial sanctions on North Korea and its acceptance of North Korean refugees, there is little chance that the Bush administration will welcome the recent decision.

It is different here. But while welcoming advances in relations with North Korea, the majority of Koreans also believe that conflict with the U.S. is undesirable. Therefore, the government must have a responsible explanation to the people about the correlation between the agreement and relations with the Bush administration.

From the Korea Herald:

“The train wants to run further.” A sign bearing these words has stood for decades at the point on a western railway line where the track between Seoul and Pyongyang had been cut. Nearby, the rusting skeleton of a steam locomotive decays with the passage of time.

Following the 2000 Pyongyang summit between former President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, work started to re-connect the Gyeongeui Line and another link along the East Coast. The delicate process of clearing numerous landmines in the heavily fortified border area attracted worldwide attention. The actual tracks, however, were only laid last December, evidence of the tardy pace of progress in inter-Korean relations.

Finally, the two Koreas last week agreed to conduct test runs of trains on the restored lines next Thursday. A South Korean train will travel from Munsan to Gaeseong in the North and a North Korean train from Mt. Geumgang will journey to Jejin in the South. Still, this does not signify the actual beginning of a railway service between the Koreas for passenger and cargo transportation, not even on a small scale.

The North Korean military is said to be standing in the way of opening the border-crossing rail route because they fear the exposure of military facilities along the tracks. But the real reason must be that Kim Jong-il is not ready to accept South Korean overtures for speedier and broader inter-Korean exchanges which would follow the completion of the railway link program.

Opening an inter-Korean railway link is of more than symbolic importance. Widely touted as “the iron silk road” during North-South dialogue, it would connect South Korea to the trans-Siberian and trans-China railways and enable cheaper and faster transportation of goods originating from the Pacific basin to Europe via land routes. North Korea could earn substantial income in the form of passage charges and expect foreign investment in logistics and other sectors.

The Pyongyang leadership is asked to make a wise, practical decision concerning the railway project which will be the first major step to integrate the North into the world economy.


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